Crif-Dogs and I have different goals. They want my money; I want their delicious bacon-wrapped hot dog. They have to listen to me and cater to me to win my $4.50 (shut up – it’s well worth it). They might think I’m an idiot to want mustard with my bacon-dog, but they give it to me anyway because it’s what I want. That’s your standard customer-marketer relationship: the customer is always right.
That shouldn’t be how the donor-nonprofit relationship works.
The nonprofit sector is truly unique, because the charity “serving” me wants the same thing I do: to make the world a better place.
If I could just get the charities I work with to understand this, my life would be so much easier. But when I pick up the phone to get information, I run into a marketer (or “developer”). Marketers are taught to serve the customer; charm the customer; make the customer feel good; don’t contradict the customer. So I get salesy fact sheets; I get reassuring platitudes; I get thank-you notes; and when I ask questions that don’t make sense (it happens), I get answers that don’t either.
There’s no good reason for this. If the information I say I want isn’t relevant, tell me why. If helping people isn’t as simple as I’d like to think, explain. If the only way to get me to really understand your organization is to contradict my assumptions, isn’t that what you have to do? What’s holding you back?
Is it that you’re afraid the truth will make me donate somewhere else? If so, what are you doing working for this charity? You got into this business to help people, right?
Is the reasoning a Machiavellian “Get the money to the right place, for the wrong reasons?” You might want to re-examine your assumptions about your donors. How sure are you that they’re really so stupid and myopic? Might the gains you make by babying your donors be offset by the potential donors you’re losing, people who just want to be treated like adults and told what they’re actually paying for? Hint: people who are smart and thoughtful – and hesitant to spend money when they don’t truly understand where it’s going – often end up with lots of disposable income.
Or is the reason you don’t answer our questions that you don’t know what the answers are? Do you really understand what your organization does? Do you really believe that you work for the best charity in the world? If not, why on earth are you spending your life marketing for it?
For-profit marketing might be soulless and salesy, full of people persuading others of what they don’t believe themselves. But nonprofit marketing should be just the opposite. Marketers shouldn’t want to “serve” the donor; they should want the same thing the donor wants. As a nonprofit employee, you’re presumably sacrificing some income to help the particular organization you’ve chosen – that makes you the donor.
The first step to becoming a great nonprofit marketer should be to do great donor-side research, because when you find the organization you believe in with your heart and soul, marketing and transparency are one and the same.